Northwest District Court Upholds Constitutionality of Marsy’s Law


April 9, 2020


Nick Klitzing, K2 & Co.

618-322-1514, [email protected]


Judicial ruling rejects the argument that Marsy’s Law limits a defendant’s rights under the United States Constitution

In a closely-watched criminal case before the Northwest District Court, Judge Ben Johnson upheld Marsy’s Law by ruling that it is a “properly enacted” amendment to the North Dakota Constitution that does not challenge or limit a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights (i.e. the “right to confront your accusers”) or Fourteenth Amendment rights (i.e. “Due Process Clause”) under the United States Constitution.

In the case of State of North Dakota v. Ian Zachary Laboyd, the Defendant filed a motion to compel a discovery deposition after being charged with five criminal offenses, including murder, attempted murder, possession of stolen property, criminal attempt-delivery of a controlled substance, and tampering with physical evidence. The surviving victim in the case asserted his right under Marsy’s Law, a provision of the North Dakota Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 25) passed in 2016, in declining to be deposed as a victim.

In his ruling (which is attached), Judge Ben Johnson determined the following:

A defendant in a North Dakota criminal case does not have a constitutional right to conduct a discovery deposition, and thus a victim cannot be forced to testify via pre-trial deposition (Page 2, Paragraph 5).

A defendant’s rights under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause (i.e. the “right to confront your accusers”) require the victim, if called as a witness, be present and subject to cross-examination at trial, but Marsy’s Law does not limit or abrogate a defendant’s constitutional rights because courts have consistently held that the Sixth Amendment’s “Confrontation Clause is a trial right, not a pre-trial discovery right” (Page 3, Paragraph 8, 9).

Marsy’s Law does not violate a defendant’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, because a defendant has other avenues available to receive much of the same evidence that would be gathered from a discovery deposition (Page 4, Paragraph 14).

Judge Johnson concluded the following (Page 4-5, Paragraph 18) (emphasis added):

“[Victim] has properly invoked his constitutional rights under Art. I, Sec. 25 of the North Dakota Constitution (Marsy’s Law). Under Marsy’s Law, the right to decline a deposition will not abrogate the Defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. The Defendant has argued that various constitutional rights held by the Defendant invalidate Marsy’s Law. The Defendant also argues that Marsy’s Law abrogates the Sixth Amendment rights that the Defendant currently possesses. None of the Defendant’s arguments led to a conclusion that Marsy’s Law, a properly enacted constitutional amendment, is invalid. The Defendant’s arguments have also not convinced this Court that the victim’s rights asserted are abrogating the Defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.

Erinn Mahathey, National Outreach Director for Marsy’s Law, issued the following statement in response to the ruling upholding Marsy’s Law:

“Marsy’s Law ensures that victims of crime have equal, constitutional rights on the same level as those accused and convicted of crimes – nothing more, nothing less. In 2016, Marsy’s Law passed overwhelmingly with 62% of North Dakotans voting for the amendment because the victims’ rights movement has always been about ensuring and protecting the rights of victims, not about challenging the rights of defendants.

This judicial ruling confirms just that - Marsy’s Law is constitutional and in no way limits the constitutional rights of defendants.”

The motion in its entirety is available below.


About Marsy’s Law for North Dakota:

Marsy's Law for North Dakota led the campaign in 2016 to pass a Crime Victims' Bill of Rights ratifying Article 1 Section 25 of the North Dakota Constitution. The amendment passed overwhelmingly with 62%, giving crime victims in North Dakota meaningful and enforceable constitutional rights equal to the rights of the accused.

Marsy’s Law for North Dakota is a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights that is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Ann Nicholas, a beautiful, vibrant college student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after Marsy was murdered, her mother Marcella and her brother Henry walked into a grocery store after visiting Marsy’s grave and were confronted by the accused murderer. They had no idea that he had been released on bail. In an effort to honor his sister, Dr. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corporation, has made it his mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights. He formed Marsy’s Law for All in 2009, providing expertise and resources to victims’ rights organizations nationwide.